In the film, McLaughlin plays Cole, a teenage boy living in Detroit who is taken by his mother to live in Philadelphia with his estranged father, Harp (Idris Elba), after getting expelled from his high school for fighting. Reluctant at first, Cole eventually integrates with the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club — the same club that his father, whom he initially holds in disdain, is a part of.
The movie marks the feature film debut for the Stranger Things star. “This was totally different from any role I’ve ever played in, totally different from who I am as a person,” McLaughlin says. “When I was reading the script, I knew this would be the road that would stretch me and show my range as an actor. I’ve been waiting for this moment ever since I wanted to really pursue my career in acting. And I’m glad it’s this film because it’s not your ordinary ‘hood’ or Western film. This is about Concrete Cowboys. It’s about Fletcher Street and it’s something different. It’s a story that’s untold and it’s about history. It’s a part of American history. So I think it’s very special.”
The actor breaks down a few of the big scenes in the film, including the very emotional confrontation scene between Cole and the character’s father. “[Idris Elba and I] sat and talked about that scene all night before we filmed that scene,” the actor recalled. “We were just talking about our relationships with our fathers because I have a relationship with my father. That scene was definitely challenging for me because, you know, I talk to my dad about everything. He’s been in my life since day one. We just sat down and just kind of talked about the dynamics and the luggage that we held behind that scene.”
McLaughlin also speaks about his experience learning to ride the horses for the film, as well as the significance of the Fletcher Street community and what it was like to act alongside some of the community members who were acting for the first time. “I think it’s special [working with non-actors], especially [the ones that] want to be actors,” he says. “Even though they’re from Fletcher Street and it was a story around their community, you could tell… their passion and their love for acting. Just talking about the script with them, and sitting down and just hearing about their love for horses. And they made sure they came on set professionally and put everything that they had into this film. I think they’re great actors.”
Concrete Cowboy, directed by Ricky Staub, is streaming now on Netflix.